Curt Schilling Is an Obvious Hall of Famer

It's time for Curt Schilling to get one of these. (RLRS Photo).

It’s time for Curt Schilling to get one of these. (RLRS Photo).

The Hall of Fame will announce the results of the 2014 writers’ voting on January 8th. In the weeks leading up to that announcement, I’m going to write a few posts on people on the ballot. I know that we have some Hall of Fame objectors in the commentariat and some Hall of Fame I’m-bored-of-its on the writing staff. So let me talk for just a second about my vision. I don’t plan on making the umpteenth case against Jack Morris or somebody. What I’m interested are the great players of the most recent generation who clearly deserve election on the merits. What I want to do in these posts then is as much to just celebrate wonderful baseballing careers that I got to experience, and to frame that in terms of Hall of Fame eligibility.

The first is Curt Schilling. I want to talk about two aspects of his greatness which I think have been underrated. Everyone knows about the postseason heroics and the strikeouts and the shutouts. but it’s the unearned runs are the secret to his greatness. Curt Schilling allowed the fewest unearned runs (65) of any pitcher with over 2500 innings pitched in baseball history. His ratio of runs to earned runs (1.05) is the lowest of any pitcher in history with significant innings pitched.

What this means is that Curt Schilling is more underrated by ERA and ERA+ than any other pitcher on the ballot. By ERA+, Schilling’s career (3261 IP, 127 ERA+) looks very similar to his contemporaries like John Smoltz (3473 IP, 125 ERA+), Kevin Brown (3256 IP, 127 ERA+) and Mike Mussina (3563 IP, 123 ERA+). However, if Schilling had allowed the same number of runs to score but allowed unearned runs at a typical rate rather than his historically stingy rate, he’d have had about a 132 ERA+.

Read on for historical comparisons…

Kevin Brown, a reasonably great pitcher in his own right, is a fun comparison here. Brown and Schilling have nearly identical career numbers based on earned runs. However, Brown actually allowed 172 unearned runs while Schilling allowed just the 65. So Schilling was not terribly similar to Brown in his career run prevention, he actually prevented about 100 more runs. By RA+, Kevin Brown threw 3256 innings with a 22% better than league average rate of run prevention, while Schilling threw 3261 innings with a 32% better than league average rate of run prevention.

When you look at runs allowed, you see that Curt Schilling was actually the greatest pitcher of his modern cohort. He’s not Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson, but after them he’s the first pitcher I’d choose to start a ballgame in some secret magic baseball time mirror, and he’s the first I’d put on my Hall of Fame ballot.

The pitcher who starts to show up as a comparison for Schilling when you make the UER adjustment is Bob Gibson. Gibson threw an extra 450 innings more than Schilling, though in a low-scoring era when innings were easier to come by. His 130 ERA+ in 3722 innings looks not dissimilar from Schilling’s adjusted 132 ERA+ in 3261 innings. The two greatest postseason pitchers of their times, both clearly qualified on their regular season performances alone, were also quite similar in their overall run prevention in the regular season. The modern-day Bob Gibson is certainly an obvious Hall of Famer.

Now, one objection that could be raised here is that unearned runs are about luck. The defense made an error, so the pitcher didn’t deserve to be credited with the run. In fact, though, there are different ways of pitching that lead to more or fewer unearned runs allowed. Far more errors are committed on ground balls than on flyballs, and of course almost no errors are committed on strikeouts. If you rack up huge numbers of strikeouts and induce a high rate of flyballs, you’ll allow fewer unearned runs. And of course that’s what Schilling did. He pounded the zone with a four-seam fastball, avoided walks and risked allowing the occasional home run in pursuit of Ks and easy pop-outs. Kevin Brown, one of the most notable sinkerballers of his generation, gave up a much larger number of unearned runs because of the higher rate of errors on groundballs. (Derek Lowe, as a comparison, has already allowed 138 unearned runs in a career 1000 innings shorter than Schillings.)

I like to think that Schilling’s low UER rate is not just a function of his strikeout/flyball ways. He also worked quickly and almost never ran up long at-bats. He kept his fielders on their toes, as every baseball coach in history has asked of his pitchers. It’s not like Schilling was backed up by good defenses, from the 1990s Philles of “I’m not an athlete, lady, I’m a ballplayer” to the sillyball lineups in Arizona and Boston. He pitched with Jeremy Giambi in the field behind him. Jeremy Giambi. Schilling’s style of pitching, I like to think, got the best out of his mediocre fielders. He was a joy to watch from the stands or the television, and I think it’s likely he was equally fun from the perspective of the infield dirt.

He’s an obvious Hall of Famer.

7 thoughts on “Curt Schilling Is an Obvious Hall of Famer

  1. Dan

    Sorry if I’m being overly pedantic, but this is a pet peeve of mine:

    By RA+, Kevin Brown threw 3256 innings with a 22% better than league average rate of run prevention, while Schilling threw 3261 innings with a 32% better than league average rate of run prevention.

    This is not accurate. Kevin Brown threw 3256 innings during which league average pitchers allowed 22% more runs than he did. Schilling threw 3261 innings during which league average pitches allowed 32% more runs than he did.

    This is why ERA- and RA- are much better stats than ERA+ and RA+; they allow you to make the comparison in the logically straightforward way that we all naturally prefer. Having the league average as the dividend instead of the divisor really screws with the numbers when you get to extremes especially. If you look at a season like Pedro Martinez 2000 with a 291 ERA+, you’re tempted to think “wow he allowed runs at a rate 191% better than league average” and while he was awesome, he wasn’t quite THAT awesome. His ERA- of 35 tells you that he was 65% better than league average at preventing runs.

  2. Dan

    As for the overall article, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve really stopped caring as much about the HOF due to the farcical nature of a Baseball Hall of Fame with Jim Rice but no Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, but I do enjoy the chances to reflect on careers of great players that I enjoyed watching play the best sport in the world.

  3. Rick Berger

    I cannot get behind a felon (not yet convicted) that swindled the people of Rhode Island out of tens of millions. I no longer believe the sock and just see him as a shameless self-promoter. I get sick in my stomach when I see him on ESPN. And this is from the hardest of die hard Sox fans.

  4. Jose

    I think to say Schilling “swindled the people of Rhode Island” assumes that a LOT of businesses are run by felons. It is a sad fact of the business/government intersection that when governments give businesses handouts that as often as not they are going to see that money go up in smoke. I think the state of Rhode Island acted foolishly but what I saw from Schilling’s 38 Studios was nothing more than a poor businessman taking advantage of what he could get. The criticism should be of the government folks who were dumb enough to give a dumb jock a bunch of money to run a video game shop.

    That said Schilling IS a self-promoter. Ed Wade’s famous “he’s a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four days” is entirely accurate. Schilling in the Hall wouldn’t be in the top half of reprehensible people there.

    Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley had substance abuse issues, serious ones. Everyone who played prior to 1947 has to be viewed through the lens of racism, Tom Yawkey…the less said the better.

    Schilling’s on field accomplishments, as well chronicled in this post by MCoA, are worthy of induction.

  5. Darren

    I’d buy that excuse for Schilling if he was about 8 years old. But Schilling is a grownup, or should be. He lobbied Rhode Island for the money then squandered it. When things went badly, he asked for more money, and when it all fell apart, he blamed Lincoln Chaffee for not keeping his company’s financial troubles a secret. All the while, Schilling has maintained a public political advocacy for a party that decries government interference in private business. Being poor at business is no crime but Schilling has done a lot worse than be a poor businessman.

  6. Darren

    On the stats, I think we’re going to far the other way for Schilling. Yes, he’s going to avoid some of those infield errors by getting flyballs and Ks. But a certain amount of those unearned runs are going to come from bad luck and/or from having poor infielders or outfielders. Seems like splitting the difference would be closer to the truth.

    In fact, I might even argue that counting only earned runs would be the closest to fair because during the period in which Schilling played errors have only been scored on egregiously bad plays. Alternatively you could just use FIP and eliminate the BIP (still not perfect obviously).

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